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The Fifth Annual UCD James Joyce Research Colloquium: 19–21 April 2012

From: Dublin James Joyce Journal
Number 5, 2012
pp. 119-121 | 10.1353/djj.2012.0013

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Five years on, the Research Colloquium has carved out an unassailable place in a Joycean calendar that appears fuller every year. Graduate students in particular have to marshal their resources of time and money carefully as they make increasingly hard decisions about which of the many annual conferences, symposia, and summer schools to attend. To alleviate at least one aspect of this conundrum, the colloquium remains a free event and each year UCD has been able to offer travel and accommodation scholarships. As students, we are driven by two basic goals: to interact with our peers and to hear as much of the best work being done in the field as possible. For the latter concern at least, our decision is driven by efficiency; ‘where can I see the best work in the field at its greatest concentration?’ The colloquium certainly satisfies that desire: nine plenary speakers in just over two days, all of whom could expect to have their name up in lights at another conference. But perhaps the greatest achievement is that Luca Crispi and Anne Fogarty have managed to combine this heavyweight line-up of speakers with an atmosphere that is always welcoming. The colloquium offers an opportunity to interact closely with the other participants, as well as an annual performance (this year Paul O’Hanrahan performed his excellent one-man show Taking the Biscuit: Lenehan in the Limelight), and a cosy dinner; all in all, an atmosphere that resembles a summer school more than a conference.

The Colloquium opened, as is customary, with an evening lecture and reception at UCD. Finn Fordham’s keynote at this year’s colloquium provided a contextual account of the new technology of television and its several appearances in Finnegans Wake. The imaginers and philosophers of the 1930s had conceived of television less as home cinema and more as a wireless with pictures, a mode of experiencing events from around the world as ‘participants’ rather than merely passive viewers. But it was also imagined as a mode of communication — a video phone — and as a potentially invasive force. One programme described the ‘Shadow’, whose ‘genius for manipulating radio and television enables him to project his voice and shadow wherever he desires; he can see through doors, hear through walls and electrocute people by death ray’. This is all by way of saying that this new technology was exactly that, new. Fordham showed that Joyce was clearly attentive to these cultural responses to the technology, illustrating the Wake’s construction of television as a symbol of the modern: ‘as modern as tomorrow afternoon and in appearance up to the minute’.

The next day’s speakers succeeded in keeping up the high standard the opening had set. Anne Fogarty’s ‘ “We want no more strangers in our house”: Altercations with the Literary Revival’ offered a subtle and sensitive rethinking of Joyce’s mythical fallings-out with his Irish revival counterparts. Sarah Davison, having distributed one of the most exhaustive and colourful hand outs I have ever seen, set about tracing a genetic study of Joyce’s use of Richard Chevenix Trench’s Studies of Words in ‘Oxen of the Sun’. She showed convincingly that Joyce plays constantly on etymological discussions that appear in Trench’s Study. Davison has tracked down Joyce’s notes to their specific source in Trench, providing dramatic insights into the little games with words that Trench enables, perhaps encourages, Joyce to play. Robert Spoo (in demand throughout the Colloquium for his thoughts on the various legal issues that have been thrown up by the nominal cessation of copyright on Joyce’s published writings) gave an enlightening and at times pleasantly non-literary talk about Joyce’s legal battles with Samuel Roth, a character from this era of publishing history who comes across very much as a ‘character’.

The following morning, Valérie Bénéjam turned to a surprisingly understudied topic in Joyce’s writing: what to make of Joyce as a dramatist? In this case, she confined her attention to ‘Penelope’, both as a piece of text that is continually (re-)staged by production companies, with all the fraught problems this entails, and as an episode that stages...


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